publishing, Stories, Writers Co-op

Anthology Q&A

The Writers’ Co-op has decided to put together an anthology of short stories. To start off, here’s a short list of practical aspects to consider. All comments and suggestions welcome.

How many submissions do we need?

It depends (a) if there’s a maximum word count and (b) how long the anthology itself should be. I’d suggest a maximum word count of 5000, with a small tolerance if it goes above. For a book of 60,000 words, that’s 12 stories. But the book could be longer and the stories shorter, so 12 is a minimum and it could stretch to around 30.

How do we find them?

Invite submissions. It’s not a competition, so won’t be listed on a competition page like the one on Almond Press, which attracts a lot of views. The Book a Break got 75 the first year, 123 the second. Slightly less than a third made it into the anthology. How many submissions will we get by publicising on social media? No idea, but it would be nice to get 40-50. We can also send direct invitations to writers we know and appreciate.

Is there a theme?

The question is still open but there appears to be a majority saying no. And a theme adds virtually nothing to the marketing possibilities. A genre, on the other hand, makes it easier – readers type it as a search word on Amazon. Carl has suggested ‘weird’, which I like. It’s broad enough to allow for a lot of variety, from humour to horror by way of talking cats. Could even be stylistic.

Who will take care of selecting submissions, editing and formatting?

I’m quite happy to do that as it’s what I’ve been doing for the Book a Break, but ideally with someone I can call on for help when needed. Any volunteers?

What’s the calendar?

The Book a Break anthology will be released in September or October. I’d rather it didn’t clash with that, so either before or after, June/July, say, or November/December. But for the moment I’d rather not commit – let’s post submission invitations wherever we can with a deadline, I suggest, of 31st March. Some people might already have pieces ready but for anyone starting from scratch, that seems reasonable. We’ll see what happens.

How do we market it?

We will be creative, tenacious and cooperative! A committee of three or four people would be useful to come up with and implement ideas.

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About Writers, book promotion, Stories, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

The Quantum Soul

What do you get when you ask science fiction authors to write short stories that answer the question, “What is life?”

Victor Acquista, in Soul Mates, wonders if adding back what a dying person loses will reanimate the corpse.
In New Year, GD Deckard wants to know where are we when we’re not alive?

Claire Buss, in Patient Data, explores what might happen if medical robots know a patient is alive or dead only after the fact. CB Droege imagines what freed ‘bots do, once freed, in The Dream Miner’s Drill. In Rob Edwards, Shepherd of Memory, an Alien encounter changes a man but he can’t remember in what way he is now different. Darran Handshaw’s engineer finds a girl in an Ancient pod in The Machine in the Mountain. If you assume all intelligent life forms are animal, Brent A. Harris’ The Trees of Trappist will delight you. For that matter, “Are we alive or are we the A.I.?” is the question in Greg Krojac’s Pixels. And when we do meet an alien intelligence, linguistics just might be the most crucial skill we have, as it is in Leo McBride, Second Contact.

Learn what an autobot might think about in his dying moments in Jeanette O’Hagan, Project Chameleon. Probe other’s dreams in Lyra Shanti’s The Endymion Device. Enjoy ways strange can be wondrous in E.M. Swifthook’s Wondrous Strange.

Cindy Tomamichel has Sci-Fi fun When Words Are Not Enough. “Are created people, people?” may be answered by Ricardo Victoria in What Measure is a Homunculus? And why not create a “people” to travel the light years through space for us, as Jim Webster does in Aether Technician.

What do you get when you ask science fiction authors to write short stories that answer the question, “What is life?”
You get the SciFi Roundtable’s Anthology, The Quantum Soul.

Released today on Amazon.

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Stories, writing technique

Almost True As Can Be.

Here is my entry into the next short-story competition, and I see already that I’m full-on explaining. GD is right. My tendency is to create an immersive story, and characters with considerable baggage, needfully explored is my view, to set up a shady situation in all its screwball glory.

My MC here is another complex critter, an updated Sly (can’t get away from that guy) looking to conquer the world. At one point I knew this new nut as well as anyone alive; she had neither the need nor the impulse to conceal quirks from me. She knew my secrets, I knew hers.

This is not quite a story. It’s more an attempt to develop my thinking about how to present my curious past, and to envision a genuine plot. If I can get this going, I have quite a show for you.

I stumbled into that life and lived it for ten years, until I settled into a steady job with benefits. It’s time to see what I can make of it.

______________________________________

Me and Cee. Cee and Me. Almost True As It Can Be.

Hold Your Hats And Hallelujah:

A start on something that doesn’t involve talking animals.

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Now, the thing with CeeCee . . . I’ll call her CeeCee . . . the thing with CeeCee was, like most all of us, she longed to be something she was not. But she took it to new heights.

C.C., those were her initials, originally. She shed last names like a snake sheds skins. She’s probably been through bunches of husbands by now. I google maiden, first husband’s and (so she projected) future husband’s names, nothing pops up.

What she was, kids, was a girl from a large Italian family in coastal Rhode Island. Six brothers and sisters, innumerable nieces and nephews and cousins, a home-heating-oil-supply father, the homemade-pasta-cooking (stay at home? You better believe it) mama, her brothers also small businessmen, several beautician – the height of their ambition – sisters. Traditional, goes without saying, right? She broke with the conservative family ethos early on.

I had a three-bedroom apartment in Boston. I needed two roommates. I put an ad in the paper. CeeCee showed up, with a girlfriend. Great! I was in business. But that’s neither here nor there. I can double back and fill in the gory details of that situation later.

That house-share didn’t last long, but Cee and I had become fast friends. We split up, moved around, like you do in your early twenties. She landed a boyfriend in Marblehead who owned a large house on the water’s edge, inherited from his mother. It was worth good money fifty years ago. Today, forget it.

The mother had acquired it, and also a house on Martha’s Vineyard, from a wealthy first marriage. The Vineyard house had to be sold to pay off a second husband’s gambling debts, but she held onto the property in Marblehead and lived in it until she died of breast cancer, shortly before Cee arrived on the scene.

Cee admired that lady, the way she had feathered a very cozy nest. Like the Eagles say, ‘A rich old man and you don’t have to worry’. She married Mitch, a nice enough guy, not rich, but he did own a really wonderful house. That marriage didn’t last. But an idea had been planted.

Meanwhile, tragically unemployable, having studied Costume Design in art school (bad move there) I had managed to find a job working for a costumer meeting the needs of go-go girls and strippers in Boston’s Combat Zone. It was fun for a while, a novelty. I sure met some interesting people.

The strippers (then, don’t know about now) made really good money. Cee, who had started on a professional career, a cosmetologist, she called herself, selling cosmetics in a drug store in Marblehead, took note. She was a beautiful girl, a dose of cellulite, but very sexy, and she determined to give it a try. She’d met some showgirls (as they liked to call themselves) through me, they seemed like okay people (they were okay people), the idea wasn’t as scary as it might have been otherwise. Cee, never a timid one, took to it like a fish to water.

We’ll fast-forward here. This is supposed to be a short story.

She got a way-too-large boob job and became a headliner at the Two o’Clock Lounge. Boston was her home base, but she made forays to, among other places, Las Vegas, toting trunks of elaborate costumes and a huge red velvet pillow that she did ‘floor work’ on. (That’s what they called it, floor work, the precursor, I suppose, of pole dancing.) Those airline baggage handlers must have flipped when they saw the thing. Too large to wrap up, she checked the naked heart-shaped, fringed and sequined blood-red pouf, about four feet round, a-foot-plus high, along with a mountain of gear. In those days, the costumes were outrageous, as if the customers ever wanted to see anything but a quick peel down to a G-string and pasties.

You could dream it, a costumer would furnish it. Southern Belle, Barbarella, Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. (This was before Elvira, but you get the picture.) A Fairy Queen, if that’s what you yearned to be. The name of the game was layers, many pieces to shed in the course of a fifteen minute routine. G-string, thong-panty, full panty, a bra, usually a corset of some kind, all kinds of strap-things, straps were real popular, dress, gloves, boot-like leggings, often a gossamer negligee at the end of the act, to whip around artfully. Hats. Big hats. Lots and lots of big hats. Feathers and beads, and breakaway zippers, everywhere.

Where was I? Oh yeah, Vegas. In Las Vegas, Cee met a businessman from, of all places, Boston. He was married, par for the course, right? He took a shine to her, and the liaison continued back home. I always figured she provided the excitement he had missed out on, having spent his young years at Harvard Business School studying his heart out. It was also respite from a dull marriage to a wife who was obsessed with tennis. But excitement has its costs. Cee was labor-intensive, and then some. I wondered then, and I wonder now, why he put up with her and her ever-growing demands. It had to be the excitement.

It wasn’t her thing, as far as I know, but she would have made a good dominatrix. He pushed people around at work, maybe he wanted to be abused in his private life. (That’s the theory, isn’t it?) He was a big shot in a big firm and he had money like you wouldn’t believe. They were always off to somewhere. (He had left his wife by then.) Vienna for Christmas, London, Paris. He bought her a lovely big house on Marblehead Neck. But she wanted more. Like in The Two Mrs. Grenvilles, she wanted to be the preppy trust-fund wife that her husband’s Ivy League partners tended to have. She wanted to live in Palm Beach during the season, and run in high society. She spent a winter there, hanging out with God-knows-who, maybe Roxanne Pulitzer, if she was lucky. (You don’t join high society, you’re born into it.) He rented her a house in Key West. That lasted longer, about two years.

There are two ways to insert yourself into that kind of crowd. One, you can be yourself, and be so amusing at it that you are embraced as an oddity and adopted. And, she was capable of that. She was lots of fun, when she wasn’t being a pain in the ass. That’s not the path she chose. She went the dicier route.

She worked to present herself as a true insider, of suitable pedigree. She worked damn hard at that. The boyfriend knew the truth, of course. What he thought of her often disturbing interpretation of class is anybody’s guess.

I spent a weekend with her in a suite at the storied Hotel Carlyle in Manhattan. Fifty years ago it was old-money-shabby-chic, downright dowdy. Exactly like the rooms of the Ritz Carleton in Boston. Glam on a par with Howard Johnson, maybe even a little less. It’s the climbers who fixate on shiny-new. Gleaming up-to-date matters (or used to matter) little to those raised with deep wealth and status.

We were shown to one suite, looked fine to me, like I said, nothing fancy. Cee threw a fit: Won’t do, won’t do at all. Quite unacceptable. I want the suite I had last time. We got relocated. The last-visit suite looked absolutely the same to me, I didn’t see a damn bit of difference. But she was mollified: A great improvement, thank you so much. She liked to make clear that she was someone, of nice taste, used to being catered to.

She’d come up in the world since the time we (actually, I) broke into a summer cottage in Swampscott, climbing through a window bare-breasted so as not to get my blouse dirty. (Relax. Friends of ours, not home.) If neighbors had called the cops on us, that would have been cute, no? Our friends were two wanna-be artists. Their neighbors may have come to the conclusion, you see something odd going on over there, you pay it no mind.

The boys must have had no phone, or we would have called ahead. We had hitchhiked up from Cambridge, busted (!!!) our way in, sat around two or three hours, gave up, and left a note painstakingly incised into an untouched jar of peanut butter: We were here, Mimi, Cee.

Her tastes had sure changed since her days of T-shirts stretched tight over braless boobs, with the slogan BITCH proudly displayed, often paired with hot pants (as they were known in the seventies, in an earlier era, short-shorts) and leopard-look platform-sole knee-high boots. A housemate of my brother told me, Your friend was in Harvard Square the other day (a hike, she was living in Marblehead) stopping traffic. I’d seen it many times, her little game, feigning scorn of the stares, loving every minute of it.

I’ll save that early stuff for another time. I’ve miles to go before I put this thing to sleep. I’ve barely gotten started.

I guess I have to come up with an honest-to-God plot, and feather it in somehow or other. Plots are not my forte, as some of you know.

I hung out with many odd characters in the wee-hours spaces after the clubs shuttered at two a.m. My plot would certainly have to include the black-belt owner of an escort service who longed to be an action star like Bruce Lee, who had to constantly be assured that he was good-looking enough to make it in Tinseltown. One girl went on to be a Penthouse Pet, and to model legitimately, internationally. And I cannot neglect to depict my costumer-employer. The first-done-on-American-soil-sex-change is how she billed herself on posters for her combo strip/hypnotism act. I saw what may have been the last performance she ever gave, and it was painful to watch.

She performed in cabaret-style settings. Her fan club, a gaggle of middle-aged women who followed her from date to date, didn’t recoil at her fiftyish spread, not unlike their own sad disintegration. They probably cheered her bravery. I think it was willful blindness to reality.

Disrobed down to droopy tugs and a G-string half hidden by an overflow of abdomen (OK, I’m exaggerating, but it was gross), she would set tassels, dangling (lots of dangling going on there) from pasties (sequined disks cloaking the nipples), set tassels aflame and get them twirling, in opposite directions. Did I see that or is it one of those false memories we read about? The flame part, I mean. Where does that image come from? I honestly don’t know. Fired up tassels or not, anyone who walked into the venue unaware of what was in store saw a show they would not forget.*

Sounds like I led an interesting life, huh? I did, but it was a life filled with crises. It’s more fun to write about than it was to experience it.

______________________________________

* Shock value was surely the bedrock principle of her showmanship, embraced at an early age as a means of survival. She had begun her career in the sideshows of Mid-West carnivals, performing in drag.Screen Shot 2017-01-29 at 1.51.28 AM.png

She was a big, muscular person, she’d been well able to defend herself. If she was bullied – I’m sure she was, she grew up in Kansas, not a stronghold of toleration then or now – it would have been largely confined to verbal abuse. But she had come to terms with her lot in life, and had made a good living off it.

I just looked her up. Man! There’s a ton of stuff on her due to the prominence of the transgender issue these days. When I searched ten years ago I only found three or four items. That’s her, above. Look at that face. Would you pick a fight with her?

She was a throw-back in many nasty ways, anti all kinds of folks and astonishingly open about it. That may have been the result of being born at a certain time into a certain place, but many find a way to move beyond prejudices learned at Mama’s knee. She did not. She may be a role model for some, but she was not admirable as a human being. If she were still alive, she would be the staunchest of Trump supporters, and for the very worst reasons.

______________________________________

My Lemony Snicket boxed set has arrived. I’ll proceed with the piece I’ve planned to write: Lemony/the books vs. Lemony/the Netflix series. I hope to learn something regarding the integration of show and tell. If anyone’s been successful at it, it’s Lemony.

______________________________________

Her name was Hedy Jo Star.

 

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Uncategorized, writing technique

Raise Your Voice… uh, Voices!

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I am not a sarcastic person. Sarcasm strikes me as mean — snarky condemnations passive-aggressively issued by arrogant people desperate to feel superior to those they ridicule. Those who are not the target may think it’s witty, but maybe they’re just relieved and smugly enjoying the fact it wasn’t aimed at them. After all, does anyone really deserve such ridicule? I’m inclined to give all* people the benefit of the doubt, and accept their occasionally foolish, irritating, mind-raspingly stupid behavior as an entitlement every human may claim. Even I could claim it if I were ever foolish, irritating, or stupid. None of which, of course, I ever am.

That’s the reason Romero Russo was such a revelation. More than two years ago, Romero started writing a book called Sarcasm Font. My first public view of him was on Inkshares during a marketing contest. After completing the first five chapters of his ambiguously fictional story, he started blogging. People found his writing funny and thoughtful:

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Here’s the thing. I am him.

 

That’s right. Following an unexpected series of events leading to my brain slurring two words into a word you won’t find in the OED, a fit of whimsy took over. I began writing Sarcasm Font in a voice so unfamiliar to me that I couldn’t even claim author credit. Romero Russo was born. He had a life of his own. He didn’t speak to me; he spoke through me. No doubt other authors have had the same out-of-voice experience. I suspect they would agree: it’s freeing.

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The elusive Romero Russo (Photo credit: S.T. Ranscht)

 

Like many authors, I’ve written characters who say sarcastic things. Readers have commented that each of my characters has an individual, identifiable voice. But writing and living from inside a character whose voice differs drastically from your own is more like acting. If you allow that person to tell the whole story, the writing experience is more like watching the story than creating it.

When Romero went public on Inkshares, the circle who knew about the two of us was small: two of my sisters and my son. They were kind enough not to share Romero’s secret, but they weren’t shy about letting me know they thought it was kind of creepy that I talked about him as if he were real. He and I shared a Venn diagram overlap of followers, and we followed each other. Why wouldn’t we? We were marketing separate works by separate authors.

But when we started blogging, we were sharing our “selves” with strangers. That’s when it became a hoax. No one questioned it. Why would they? He said things I would never say. It was just so darn much fun to be Romero Russo.

After the 2016 A to Z Blogging Challenge, Romero went silent on WordPress. I was still working on Sarcasm Font, and planned to promote it under his name. I began to question the practicality of that when I wrote the short story behind one of his… um, life events, and entered it in a contest. Entry required a bio and a photo. I had those, no problem. But on the chance — however remote — that it won a cash prize, or was short-listed to be published in the anthology, wouldn’t I want the cash and/or credit to be mine? Yes. Yes I would. I submitted it under my name, and while it didn’t win any cash, it was published in the contest anthology. I got all the credit.

I also gave myself up. Someone — I leave the choice to acknowledge this to him — who follows both Romero and me procured a copy of the anthology and read my story, which I, appropriately though perhaps indiscreetly, called “Sarcasm Font”. He allowed that I might merely have appropriated Romero’s premise, but he also suspected that we might be one and the same, despite the difference in voices. When he asked me directly, I couldn’t bring myself to resort to “alternative facts”. I confessed.

My hope is that others may take some inspiration from this tale. If you haven’t yet written an out-of-voice story, I highly recommend it. It will open your mind to discover voices you didn’t know you had. Ideas that have never occurred to you before will flow. You might find your very own Romero Russo.

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*(Except for one person to whom I gave a chance, but whose consistently reprehensible behavior has depleted my ability to tolerate. I might need Romero to speak for me for the next four years.)

fullsizeoutput_174 S.T. Ranscht lives in San Diego, California. She and Robert P. Beus co-authored ENHANCED, the first book in the young adult Second Earth Trilogy. She is currently submitting their baby to literary agents, determined to find the one who is their perfect match. Her short story, “Cat Artist Catharsis”, earned Honorable Mention in Curtis Bausse’s 2016 Book a Break Short Story Contest, and is available in its anthology, Cat Tales. “Sarcasm Font” appears in the 2016 To Hull and Back Short Story Anthology. Find her online: on WordPress at Space, Time, and Raspberries, Facebook, Twitter @STRanscht and Instagram @stranscht. You can follow ENHANCED on Facebook, Twitter @EnhancedYASyFy, and Instagram @secondearthtrilogy.

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About Writers, Stories

Operation Anthology

cat-tales-851-pix

A short while ago, D.J. Lutz told us of the advantages of participating in an anthology. Well, I haven’t done that myself, but I recently compiled, edited and published one. So following on from Carl’s recent POV Explained, this post is from a different point of view.

What do you need? First of all, obviously, stories. I was fortunate here in having plenty to choose from. With 75 entries to the Book a Break short story competition, the difficult part was deciding when to stop. Naturally, quality was the main criterion, but not the only one. I was keen for variety too, so rather than treat them all as finished products, I did select a handful on the basis of potential, knowing that a fair amount of work would still be needed. This might have meant that some more polished stories didn’t make the cut because they were too similar to others. Entirely my fault: the competition prompt was too restrictive. This year’s is far more general.

Whatever your criteria, though, the beauty – and occasionally the pain – of an anthology is that practically every story has room for improvement. Which is where it can start to get tricky. The Book Country experience helped – we gave and received peer reviews, and learned how to do it in the process. Only up to a point, though, because here you’re not just critiquing (where it’s no big deal if the author accepts your points or not), you’re editing. And you want the product to be as good as possible.

There are as many different ways of reacting as there are writers. Some will argue their corner with pugnacity; others will be happy to go with whatever you say. Corresponding with each author, I quickly sensed the sort of writer I was dealing with, adjusting my comments accordingly. There’s a difference between ‘I suggest deleting’ and ‘Delete’, and the question mark can come in handy too – ‘Delete?’

From the editor’s point of view, one big advantage is being able to call on the contributors themselves for second or third edits and for proofreading. Half a dozen helped with this, which didn’t just make for a lighter workload but was also reassuring – you’re not making all the decisions alone.

Mistakes, I made a few but then again… Actually, only a couple stand out. I tried to be democratic, for one, especially with the title. Asked for suggestions, organised a vote which triggered a revolt, and ended up with the initial result overturned. Brexit, Trump, The Book a Break Anthology – 2016 has shown just how dangerous democracy can be. So next time round, the title will be imposed. Which is fine by me. I’ve often fancied myself as a dictator. Benevolent, natch.

The other mistake was waiting till the stories were practically edited before working on the cover and illustrations. That probably set back the release date a couple of months. It doesn’t much matter, but next time I’ll aim for a shorter lag between selection of stories and publication.

Formatting – not as horrendous as I’d feared. Maybe because I got myself into the right frame of mind. Take a deep breath, tell myself it’s not going to work, set all other concerns aside, stay calm, be prepared to spend as long as it takes. Formatting a book is like DIY.
The result has just appeared and to be honest, I’m quite chuffed with it. So all that remains is for me to plug it here:

What happened to the cats? In these 21 submissions to the first Book a Break short story competition, cats of many different kinds appear and disappear, roam far and wide, behave in mysterious ways. From dark and chilling to light-hearted and humorous, these stories focus on the power and mystery of cats. From ancient Egypt to modern Japan by way of war-time Crete, the cats you’ll meet here will entertain you, frighten you, intrigue you and surprise you.

Each of the 21 stories is accompanied by original illustrations and the collection is prefaced by Smith, the terrifying tabby from Taunton who, when he’s not fighting other cats, likes nothing more than to read.

The prize-winning authors of these stories come from many countries and backgrounds. Some are starting out as promising young writers, some are confirmed authors. All used the prompt for the short story competition to craft a highly original tale.

The proceeds from this book go to two charities, Cats Protection and the Against Malaria Foundation.

The 2016 Book a Break short story anthology is available now in print (black & white, $9.50) and as a kindle ebook in colour ($3.99).

A PDF colour version is available directly from this site by clicking below. Alternatively, you can donate directly to one or other of the two charities supported by the anthology, Cats Protection and the Against Malaria Foundation. Forward their thank you email to me (curtis.bausse(at)outlook.com) and I will send you the PDF file straightaway.

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Stories

The Book a Break short story competition

provence

There are competitions and competitions. There’s the Man Booker and the Book A Break. As I have no inside knowledge of the former, let me tell you about the latter. A short story competition I ran this year from my website.

All you need to run a competition is a prize, a judge and some entrants. The prize could be £30,000 (The Sunday Times Short Story Award) or publication in an anthology. If the prize is cash, you’ll no doubt want to charge a fee for entering. Since I neither wanted to charge a fee nor dip into my pension pot, I made the prize four days at our home in Provence (excluding travel costs). Casting about for a judge, I hit upon a certain Atthys Gage – you may have heard of him – whom I knew from Book Country. He kindly agreed. ‘Don’t worry,’ I said. ‘I should think there’ll be a dozen entries at the most.’

I set up a page on my website and waited. Three or four people got in touch. Then I thought it might be a good idea to advertise it a bit, so I sent the details to Almond Press, who added it to their list of competitions. Lo and behold! The number of views and visitors soared off the scale: in the first two months of this year, 8000 views and 3500 visitors. And the entries started to come in. A couple a week at first, then half a dozen, then more and more as the deadline approached. I removed the names, gave them a number, and every so often sent off a batch to Atthys, accompanied by ever more apologetic emails. Fortunately, he took it all in good humour. You won’t be surprised to hear that he was as good a judge as I could have hoped for.

The final count of entries was 75. The winner, Ingrid Jendrzejewski, duly took up her prize in July; all in all, her stay was a fitting conclusion to a highly successful competition. Not quite the conclusion, actually – reading the entries, many of which were excellent, I had the idea of publishing an anthology. All being well, Cat Tales will be released on December 15th. But that’s another story in itself.

But why, you might ask, did I run the competition in the first place? What did I stand to gain? Well, obviously, nothing as direct as a spike in sales of my book. On the other hand, it did no harm to have all those visitors to the website, even if the numbers have now returned to normal. Looking back, though, I’d say the greatest benefit lay in getting to know other writers. No doubt that’s more through the anthology than the competition itself, but the two go together. And overall, there’s another, slightly unexpected aspect – you may think it’s corny, but I found that providing the impetus for writers to create stories is quite enchanting. Some of them, perhaps, were already there in people’s minds, and might have found expression anyway; others came into being for the occasion. Either way, I find it almost as satisfying to have nurtured that whole process as if I’d written them myself.

All of which leads to the simple conclusion: coming soon – the second Book A Break Competition. I look forward to reading your entries!

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book sales, reading, Stories

Writing – A Team Sport?

anthology

As a writer, my quest to become an overnight success began nine years ago. Since that time, I have written numerous short stories, flash fictions, blog serials, novellas, novels, and a tome rivaling in word count the Icelandic Sagas. My undeniably clever, witty, yet strangely unsuccessful query letters are probably well known to vexed agents and publishers alike. Soon, however, I may achieve a modicum of success, depending on how you define the term. The overnight part? Let’s move on.

How am I doing this?

One word: Anthologies. You know, anthologies: those collections of stories, poems, vignettes, and what have you from one author or many, and often self-published. These collective works traditionally receive an instant rejection from most literary agents, the high and mighty gate-keepers to the hallowed halls of literary fame and fortune. However, I have found a path to success through anthologies and without the help of an agent. But before you label me an industry neophyte, order another pumpkin spiced espresso martini and let me ‘splain.

Gone are the days of waking up at 907 Whitehead Street, dropping a Spanish onion into a glass of chilled gin with the requisite splash of vermouth, putting paper into the typewriter and cranking out an iconic piece of literature as a seven-toed cat wanders between your legs. Not anymore. Today’s writer must do it all: write something worth reading, sell it to an agent or publisher, create a business model and social media platform, market your work and you, sell again, this time to the consumer, and then deal with insurance and taxes.

Now you know why publishing houses have so many employees. Faced with such a daunting task, how can you alone break into the business and rise above the din without having written the next Harry Potter?

Yes, you got it. Anthologies.

When I researched agents, none represented anthologies. Too difficult to manage the legal and financial issues of multiple authors on one project. Didn’t fit the paradigm. Publishers were of the same mold. If the anthology contained only your works? No different. We don’t accept poetry, picture books, screenplays, or anthologies. I’ve seen that statement on many websites.

That was then. This is now. We are in a different world today. I pay three bucks for a fifty-cent cup of coffee. My phone has more computing power than Apollo 11 had in their command module. Agents still shy away from anthologies, but...and this is my point: publishers are now embracing them.

What kind of sorcery is this?

I’m not saying literary agents no longer have value. Far from it. Get one. Everyone else has one. All the cool kids have one. Agents bring a lot to the table. But an agent isn’t an absolute necessity for you to get a start as a professional writer.

Anthologies can give you that first bit of street cred. My first short story, The Crucible, was accepted for the premier volume of The World Unknown Review (WUR), edited by L.S. Engler. Was the story good? I thought so; still do. Was the anthology a runaway bestseller? No, for a variety of reasons. But friends bought it. I think it is still on Amazon if you are curious. Did my story gain me anything? No Pushcart nomination, perhaps, but this solidified in my family and friends’ minds that I was a writer and not a retired guy with a hobby. And L.S. paid me with a $20 Starbucks card.

WUR used a vetting process – some works were accepted, others not. Mine made the cut. Success. And what about L.S.? She created and sold the anthology into a series which is now collecting stories for a third volume. Her effort created enough credibility that, when coupled with her excellent writing, she has become a contributor to The Saturday Evening Post. And to think I knew her when. To push my point home some more: L.S.s first book was an anthology of her own stories. Check out Bowl Full of Bunnies. It’s actually a very good read.

My story being in the first volume of WUR provided a nice bit of filler for my query letters. You are always asked to mention your previous success as a writer. Sure, it was just an anthology, but it proved I was serious about my writing. Effort goes a long way, even for writers.

My second (and current) anthology project has me intertwined with a cohort of 17 other writers. Many of these writers were in a local mystery writers club that had produced four anthologies earlier. The most recent book sold over 10,000 units, which for a regional book is amazing. I asked one of them how they went about creating the project, and seeing my interest, they asked me to submit a story for their fifth book.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

My story, Wyld Women and Wine, will be in their next anthology, titled 50 Shades of Cabernet. The regional publisher, Koehler Books, is taking on the project based on the success of the club’s previous efforts. They also admit the anthology having 18 sales agents, I mean writers, helps boost sales. As I said, today’s writer must do it all – including sell. This should not be a secret to anyone by now.

Before I committed to the anthology, I did my usual stalking, make that due diligence, and checked out the Koehler website. Turned out they had just put a notice up saying they were accepting unagented manuscripts. What the heck – what did I have to lose?

I sent in my manuscript, then received an email reply a few days later. I was to meet with Koehler’s chief editor, who called my writing quick paced, interesting, and very clean – meaning the text was in better shape than what he had seen from most first time novelists. After another phone call, this time from Mr. Koehler, I received an offer for publication next year. This deal comes with a content editor, copy editor, cover artist and book designer, and bonus: a marketing team. Haven’t signed yet, but we have the details pretty much carved in wood.

All this happened because of an anthology.

Will this happen to you? Maybe. Maybe not. Providence played a part in my success, I am sure. But like they say in the lottery business, you can’t win if you don’t play.  So go find yourself an anthology, get that street cred, get those personal connections, learn more of the business of writing, and maybe, just maybe, your short story will lead to something else.

Where to find anthologies? I Googled Anthology Accepting Submissions and found 420,000 entries. Mystery writers can check out MWA – they have started a yearly anthology. Sci-fi writers have one, too. Even Carina Press has a call out for romantic/erotic stories for their new anthology. I found these with less than a minute on the Internet. If all else fails, start your own. L.S. Engler did and her career is taking off. In fact, if you have something now, her World Unknown Review is still accepting stories for volume three.

Anthologies. Give ‘em a try. You can’t win if you don’t play.

Safety tips when considering participating in an anthology:

Check out the other authors – and the editor. You can have a great story, but if the rest of the book is amateurish, you lose. Guilt by association as the old saying goes.

Get the money figured out. And written into a contract. Are you paid a flat fee for the use of the story? Are you going to receive royalties? Was there an advance on royalties? Who received it? How does it impact your royalties?

Know your rights. How restrictive is the agreement when it comes to control of your story? Never sign away the copyright (I don’t think any editor or publisher would even ask this.) Does the anthology have an exclusive on your story for a certain amount of time? What about other rights? Can you concurrently shop your story to Hollywood or Bollywood? My goodness, what about licensing action figures?

My experience: L.S. paid outright for the use of my story for one year while I maintained copyright ownership and all other rights. 50 Shades of Cabernet? My story is exclusive to the anthology for two years. I retain all other rights. Royalties are 50-50 between the cohort and the publisher. I get 1/18th of that 50%. That works out to about 50 cents per book sold. Doesn’t sound like a ton of money, but remember – their last anthology sold over 10,000 units. Five grand buys me and my wife a nice trip to the Bahamas. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

And finally, be prepared to make a few decisions by consensus. Be ready to have some decisions handed down to you by the editor. And expect to make other decisions on your own. In the business world this is called managing uncertainty.

Maybe that’s why the writing business is best described as a business.

Good luck. And keep writing!

http://www.douglaslutz.com/

 

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